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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication
***** MOHAMMADI ******** EJC/REC Vol. 5, No. 2&3, 1995 *****


Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi
University of Leicester

        Abstract:  This article reviews the changed
     global political environment, the major global
     news providers, and the technologies of global
     news production in the context of arguing for a
     multinational comparative mapping of international
     news representation in the 1990s.  The article
     provides an outline for a major international
     joint venture to update and elaborate the 1979
     UNESCO/IAMCR study on foreign news in the media of
     29 countries, with over 50 countries

     The end of the Cold War demands new maps, both
cartographic and conceptual.  And new media maps as well.

     The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the
Cold War, the rapid economic development of South-East Asia,
and the consequences of the Iranian Revolution have in their
various ways produced changes that our old maps cannot
register.  The schema of three worlds, of developed centres
and underdeveloped peripheries have given way to market
globalization and a new world (dis)order.

           The International News Agenda Pre-1989

     Pre-1989 the international geography of newsgathering
seemed to have solidified into a pattern structured on Cold
War rivalries and tensions.  For news gathering through the
1980s, numerous flow studies (e.g.  Sreberny-Mohammadi et
al, 1985; Galtung & Vincent, 1992) had shown a remarkably
similar pattern of global news coverage.  In most major news
channels across the regions of the world, there were the
continual news-makers of the USA and Western Europe, the
"hot spots" of Third World crisis and an comparatively
invisible world of state socialism.  The South did not learn
much about other regions of the South.  It made sense to
claim that the world of the news was "known" (Wallis &
Baran, 1990).

     International news flows were dominated by the "big
four" Western news agencies, who through the numbers of
international subscribers, amount of news material
distributed daily, and number of journalists based around
the world, were able to set a substantial part of the
international news agenda (Boyd-Barrett, 1980;  Fenby,
1986; Friedland, 1992).  There was an imbalance in news flow
with the Third World receiving far more materials about the
First World than vice-versa.  Such evidence and arguments
culminated in the demands for a New World Information and
Communication Order.  In the mid-1980s, the US, UK and
Singapore withdrew from Unesco, one of the central fora for
such debate; the NWICO spirit and debate continues in new
gatherings such as the MacBride Roundtables.

              The New(s) Environment Post-1989

     Since 1989, the world has experienced significant
political and technological changes which have again altered
the environment of international news-gathering.

     Politically, the Soviet Union has splintered into
independent republics, a world-shaking tremor which is in
1995 still producing numerous inter-national and
inter-ethnic aftershocks in Bosnia, Azarbaijan/Armenia,
Tadjikistan and latterly in Chechnya.  When the Second World
fractured, the Third World became a numerical chimera.  The
construct of a Third World was anyway challenged by the
rapid economic development of several countries, the NICs,
most especially the little dragons of the ASEAN
nations,which has often precipitated a new kind of
"orientalism" in Western press discourse.  While some
analysts have spoken of Japan as occupying a "fourth world"
(Galtung & Vincent, 1992), such numerical labels seem to
have decreasing utility in a globalised market environment
with a number of key centres, shifting peripheries, and
pockets of endemic poverty in the North.

     Race and ethnicity seem to have been readopted as the
new international codes of difference, both by discourses of
'otherness' but also through discourses of 'self'.  The
reawakening of religio-political identities, Islam in
particular through the inspiration provided by the Iranian
Revolution, is evident in many places, creating new-old
global affinities of religious culture.  The continuing
difficulty of economic development in Africa, constrained
further by World Bank and IMF-imposed conditions including
structural adjustment programmes, have been evident in the
crises in Somalia, Ethiopia and currently Rwanda.  In a
context of such flux and crisis, the questions as to what
the international news agenda both is and should be have
become urgent ones (Van den Heuvel, 1993).

   Technological Changes in International News Production

     Global news-gathering has changed also, with the rapid
distribution of live television news perhaps the key new
ingredient in the global news enviroment.  New technologies,
based on a combination of geo-synchronous satellites,
satphones and ENG cameras, have ushered in a new era of
"live" coverage in which image and sound can be edited
together in the field and transmitted together.  This gives
the location-based journalist a potentially far more
significant role in determining not only the news agenda but
the orientation of the news story (Simpson, 1994; MacGregor,
1994).  Such technologies were suddenly evident in the
coverage of the Second Gulf War in 1991, and the "live feed"
element coupled with the control instruments of the news
pool and Pentagon vetting of journalists precipitated the
very real concerns about the accuracy and diversity of
coverage (Kellner, 1992; Bennett & Paletz, 1994) The same
phenomenon has been apparent in the coverage of Somalia and
Rwanda, Haiti and other recent "foreign" crises.

     How does speed of coverage, "turbo news", affect the
journalistic values and practices involved?  What kind of
news agenda evolves?  Are there different ways of addressing
a global news audience?  What is the relation between the
foreign-policy making apparatus and the news production
apparatus, when journalists often have a better
understanding of what is happening than do diplomats?
(Bennett & Paletz, 1994).

                   New Corporate Players

     Not only have the technologies of news-gathering
altered.  There are also new corporate and regional players
in international news provision.  CNN is now a global
player, although some argue that its reach is predominantly
to elite audiences.  BBC World Service Television is run as
a commercial operation independent of the main public
service structure of the domestic BBC and is actively
developing international distribution channels, such as
Orbit in to the Middle East.  Reuters has become one of the
top five global media corporations with its own, diverse,
modes of international news diffusion, including direct
video feeds and on-line access to news texts.  It mixes
specialist, business, newsfeeds with broad-based
international news provision - in the winter of 1995, it
signed an agreement to provide news for Murdoch's "Sky" -
and has extensive holdings in some of the other major
international news providers, such as Worldwide Television
News (Paterson, 1994); Indeed. there is such a pronounced
tendency toward global concentration amongst the wholesalers
of video news footage that this might well be even more
marked than the "big four" domination of the older news wire

     However new organizations such as European News Service
(ENS) and Associated Press Television News (APTV) are poised
to start global news operations.  Also, the rise of CNN as a
"global" news provider during the Gulf War caused
considerable consternation amongst Arab states.  Much of the
very rapid development by Gulf states of satellite
provision, telecommunications networks and varied forms of
broadcast message delivery were precipitated by that crisis,
both in an endeavour to provide the world with "local" news
and to develop an Arab perspective on the news (Evans,
1994); Middle East Broadcasting based in London and UAE
Radio and Television based in Dubai are both currently
active in satellite-based delivery of international news.

     The transnational satellite channels - CNN, BBC World
Service Television, Sky News, the Japanese GNN and the
Spanish ECO News - act as retailers but also produce their
own news product, and provide a heavy news diet selected and
packaged for "global" audiences (Hjarvard, 1994; Gurevitch,

     Another significant tier of organizational actors, the
regional news exchanges like Eurovision News Exchange,
Asiavision, Arabvision, etc, take in mainly non-regional
news feeds from the agencies and distribute to their
respective national broadcasting organizations (Hjarvard,
1994) In the main, the regional news exchanges include
public service or government broadcasters, consider
television news not a commodity but a public good, with
cost-sharing of facilities supporting their non-profit
exchange mechanisms (Hjarvard, 1994).

     There is strong competition across the three levels of
players - the wholesalers, the transnational satellite
channels and the regional news exchanges -that constitute
the international news environment, with the latter facing
particularly heavy pressure in the new deregulated,
market-driven media environment.  But the jockeying for new
modes of distribution, the cost-sharing agreements and
exchanges all mean that the neat distinction between these
three "tiers" is itself beginning to blur.

     Strong competition for global audiences, markets and
influence exists amongst the Anglophone satellite news
providers, who currently dominate the market (Tunstall,
1992).  British televisual news production and exchange is
world-renowned, of considerable status, maintains British
political influence abroad and contributes to the British
cultural export market.  CNN, the brash newcomer,
specialises in live coverage with minimal contextualization,
leaving the viewer to make sense of the story.  BBC World
Service Television is utilising indigenous journalists in
many countries and expresses a desire to see local
television production improve (Macdonald, 1994) while CNN
has World News Report, which broadcasts news stories
produced abroad (Flournoy, 1992).  These two organizations
can be seen as ideal-type models of British and American
international news production and vie for influence and
definitional power over the global news agenda.  A
comparison of the international news output of the two
players should tell us something of the perceived priorities
and policy-orientations of the international relations
agenda of the new world order (Halliday, 1991; Freedom
Forum, 1993), perhaps mirroring the evident foreign policy
differences between the USA and Britain/Europe as to
appropriate policy, over Bosnia for instance.

     However, at the same time as the global players
consolidate, there has also been a growth of Southern
international news gathering agencies attempting to provide
something of a "contra-flow" to the major western agency
news flow (Boyd-Barrett & K. Thussu, 1992) IPS has survived
in Rome but appears to be pressured in the new political
environment under Berlusconi, and may need to search for a
new base of operations.  Other agencies such as Gemini focus
on news of the developing world, and there are also at least
two services, Women's Feature Service and DepthNews, which
provide international news and features with a specifically
gendered perspective.  (Anand, 1994; Sreberny-Mohammadi,

              The Issue of Levels of Analysis

     As much of contemporary theorizing suggests, there are
powerful forces of globalization and homogenisation, but
also significant forces of localization and heterogenization
(Sreberny-Mohammadi, 1991; in press) Globalization includes
the operation of financial markets, which create complex
webs of economic integration and interdependence and allow
for global movements of capital toward cheap labour, the
growth of global media conglomerates which take the whole
world as their audience, and global media signals than
transgress national boundaries.  More and more people have
access to some form of broadcast signal so that in the 1990s
it may well become true that the "whole world is watching"
television and some form of international news provision
(Gitlin, 1980).  At the same time, forces of localization
include religio-ethnic conflicts; the increasing
self-expression of other minorities; and, in communications,
the rise of many kinds of "small media" including ethnic
media; exile media; immigrant media; and alternative,
participatory, grassroots media, which often provide
dissident readings of the news as provided by the big

     In a similar polarization, there is on the one hand an
ever more apparent globalization of international news
providers, especially television news, while on the other
hand, international news provision seems to be more and more
mediated by regional and local gate-keepers.  Again, new
technologies make it ever easier to edit television text, to
add a different voice over, in essence to cook up a news
story with a very different inflection than the raw material
received from a television news agency.  And while there is
considerable concentration at the top amongst the global
players, there is a significant diversification of smaller
news-providers also.

     In between the global and the local there are the
emergent regional structures, Europe being one of the most
significant as a political and economic project, dependent
on a certain degree of historical amnesia to overcome
not-so-distant conflicts.  If it has not yet reached a
successful construction of a new imagery of identification,
a pan-regional acceptance of being "European", certainly the
development of a fierce boundary-definition process is well
in hand with the growth of "Fortress Europe" discourse and
strict immigration policy.

               New(s) Maps and New(s) Agendas

     There is much interest in current social theory in
issues around space and cultural mapping.  If critical
scholars ten years ago were talking about history, memory
and time, geography is the central contemporary concern.
Concepts of mapping, of space and place, both real and
imaginary, are the common counters of contemporary discourse
(Massey, 1991) and one of the most interesting areas of
contemporary debate is the relation between place and
identity (Keith & Pyle, 1994).  Yet rarely are the media,
especially the news media, included in this discussion.  But
aren't our sense of space and place, our relations to
others, our geographic knowledge affected by international
news representations?  What kinds of "worlds" do (national)
media audiences inhabit?  What is the international news map
of the new world order?  How significant has regional news
coverage become?  What is the relative importance attached
to news from the South (Galtung & Vincent, 1992; Wallis &
Baran, 1990)? what is the emergent international relations
agenda (Halliday, 1991)?  How well are various national
publics informed, and which channels do they choose for
their news reception?  Such long-standing concerns of
international news analysts fit directly into the current
discourses around space and place, and work in international
news flow can provide useful empirical and theoretical
development of these issues.

     Since international news coverage has often had a very
close connection to the prevailing attitudes toward
international relations even in societies with the "freest"
presses, a mediated news map provides indication of emerging
trends in international relations.  It would also show
whether the geographic regionalism evidence in older studies
is now reinforced, or whether there are new criteria of
selection of news stories emerging, using notions of
"cultural proximity" such as Islam, for example, that work
to construct a cultural, not geographic, map of relations.
Given the problems of levels of analysis that globalization
theory has thrown up -- the leakiness of the nation-state
system; the emergence of the global in actors, culture, news
stories; regionalism; the return to the local -- it seems a
pertinent moment to reanalyse the emergent geography of
international news.

     A few media researchers have tried at various times to
map the diverse news geographies of national media systems
(Gerbner & Marvanyi, 1977; Sreberny-Mohammadi et al., 1985).
Most recently a one-day snap-shot of international news was
organized by the ICC (Chapman, 1992); the results were
evocative, but the project was not sufficiently elaborate or
coherently devised to provide much systematic information.
One interesting recent study maps the Eurovision News
Exchange of the European Broadcasting Union and explores the
issues of diversity and convergence by comparing the basic
feed to the national news menus served up (Gurevitch, 1991).
The study did not examine the distribution of news material
from other sources directly, nor did it venture out of

     We lack any large-scale base-line research that could
provide a reasonably complete analysis of the current
geography of international news coverage, at least as
presented via mainstream media channels in different
countries.  All other established social science disciplines
generate regular base-line data, from surveys of public
attitudes, to crime statistics, to unemployment trends, etc.
International communication in 1995 badly needs a new
base-line study of the geography of international news
available in major national media outlets, which would
update these earlier studies.

                     New Baseline Study

     I am pushed to eat my own words.  As the central
editor/author of the final report to UNESCO of the
IAMCR-sponsored study of _Foreign News Images in 29
Countries_ conducted in 1979, I wrote that "we would suggest
that it is time to move away from this kind of study, since
the accumulated data are vast and the central findings
reasonably validated" (Sreberny-Mohammadi, et al. 1985).  I
now think that that is wrong, given the extent of changes
whose impacts we do not really know.  The combination of a
new oligopoly of international news providers oriented
toward "global" audiences utilising technologies of
instantaneous news production and delivery in an era that
lacks the political certainties of the Cold War could
potentially deroutinise international news content as we
have known it for some time, before re-establishing new
routines.  On the other hand, it might simply be argued that
commercial imperatives, television news programming's need
for compelling pictures and the inherent conservatism of
large organizations should warn us to be sceptical about the
level and extent of real change in the international news
agenda.  At the very least, it makes these issues pertinent
for investigation once more.  Hence there is a need for a
well-organised study of international news provision that
includes national systems in all regions of the world, that
examines both press and television news content, and covers
a sufficient period of time to provide more than a one-day
snapshot.  Such a study would provide evidence of the
emerging international relations map of international news
gathering in the mid-1990s.

     Such a study could, inter alia, answer some of the
following questions:

    *what is the current news geography of various
     national media systems?  (a descriptive map)?

    *with the demise of Cold War allegiances, is the
     regional focus more pronounced than in the 1980s?

    *is the Third World still basically examined
     through a "coup and catastrophe" prism?

    *is the South receiving any more diverse news
     coverage from other parts of the South than was
     the case fifteen years ago?

    *is there evidence for the salience of Japan as the
     Fourth World?

    *is there evidence of emerging cultural regions
     (i.e. the Islamic world) rather than geographic
     proximity in terms of the international news

    *how is the news gendered, both in content terms
     viz-a-viz news actors but also in professional
     terms viz-a-viz news media journalists and

    *how much of televised international news is "live"
     feed from agencies, or what is the relationship
     between the agency-dominated "menu" and the
     national media "diets" of international news?

    *for selected stories/themes, what of the agency
     visual footage and text is used, and how are
     national modes of interpretation and political
     narrative imposed on the news text?

     Such research requires diverse research methods.  The
project will include detailed quantitative content analysis
of two weeks of international news presentation across
selected television, radio, and press channels in each
participating country.  Discourse and narrative analysis of
selected dominant news themes will also be included -- one
focus being in May 1995, when the fiftieth anniversary of
the end of the Second World War in Europe will doubtless be
commemorated with historic photographs and radio recordings,
and analyses of both war and the world since 1945, and thus
provide an excellent news story for revealing the ways in
which national memories and political narratives are woven
into the news text and how difference is constructed around
an historic event.  We also need historical analysis from
the national participants about the changing nature of
national news media organizations and the regulatory and
political environments that surround international news
gathering.  This time we also intend to press the news
source analysis further, gathering the feeds from BBC World,
Reuters, WTN, CNN, IPS, and local news exchanges and
comparing those with national media content, trying to
disentagle the "menu-diet" comparisons.

     Planning for such a multi-national comparative study is
already well underway, coordinated by the Centre for Mass
Communication Research at the University of Leicester and
the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, aiming to conduct
the study in the early autumn of 1995.  Over 50 national
teams are planning to participate, making this one of the
largest international research projects in international
communications.  Although financial support for
international research is harder to come by, particularly
given the changed orientation of UNESCO, in other ways such
international comparative projects are more feasible now
than they were even a decade ago.  There are many more media
research groups and trained personnel around the world,
based in universities or independent organizations, that can
carry out such work.  New technologies can help in
international research cooperation, with the spread of
personal computers, fax and e-mail, and with group meetings
organised around international conferences such as IAMCR.

     Such a study is an example of monitoring of
international news content and an important first step
toward rethinking the nature and purpose of international
news provision in a changing global environment.


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Author Information:  Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi
                     Centre for Mass Communication Research
                     University of Leicester
                     104 Regent Road
                     LEICESTER LE1 7LT
                      Copyright 1995
   Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, Inc.

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